Sunnyvale council changes the way it chooses the mayor
By Mayra Flores De Marcotte
05/20/2010 08:04:34 PM PDT
The Sunnyvale City Council will select its next mayor differently than in previous years. The council agreed April 27 to use a simple majority vote to determine which council member will fill the top position every two years. The change is intended to simplify what some considered a confusing process following January's selection that, for the first time in city history, saw a competition for the post.
"[We] should end up with a process that, more than anything else, people understand how it came out. If we go to a simple up and down [majority] vote, we very clearly have a way to explain," said Councilman Jim Griffith.
Until 2007, when the city changed its charter, the mayoral position rotated to the member with the most seniority. The seat is now open to any council member nominated by another member.
During January's selection process, Melinda Hamilton and Ron Swegles became the first council members to compete for the position, revealing some potential problems with the ranked-choice voting method.
Candidates must receive at least four votes—the majority of the seven-member council—to win. Hamilton secured four votes and was named mayor, but three members abstained from voting, which raised concerns about how to settle potential ties in the future.
Under the ranking system, council members rank their first- and second-choice candidates and vote for all candidates at the same time. If a council member's first candidate of choice does not receive enough votes and is eliminated, their second-choice vote is used.
Council members decided the ranked system was too complicated for the public to understand. Under simple majority, if three candidates are competing and there is a 3-2-2 vote, the council would break the 2-2 tie with a majority vote. The person with three votes would then run off against the second candidate who won the tie-breaker.
The change in voting procedures is a short-term solution while the council looks at whether the city should move forward with letting residents directly vote for the mayor. The implementation of a direct mayoral election would require a public vote to change the city charter. The council is set to discuss the possibility of instituting a direct election for the mayor's seat at the May 25 council meeting.
Councilmen Otto Lee and David Whittum both liked the ranked system, but only Whittum supported the motion to move forward with this method.
The council voted 5-2 to change the system back to the up and down vote.
"It's too complicated for the public's point of view," Lee said.
Along with the method of voting, the question of whether council members are required to vote was also on the table. Some members were concerned that if members abstained, it would be difficult to break a tie.
Council considered requiring all council members to vote when it came to choosing a mayor and vice mayor and not allowing them to abstain.
City attorney David Kahn explained to council that these are policies and not guidelines.
"Unless you have a legal reason to not vote, expectation is that council members should vote on every matter that's before them," Kahn said.
"Hamilton explained that the rationale was to avoid a situation in which someone refuses to vote and the council is left with a tie and no way to break it.
The council voted 5-2 against requiring members to vote.
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